Hazardous waste statistics are not very pleasant to look at. Each year more than 5.2 million tonnes of hazardous waste are produced in the UK - mostly by the construction, chemicals, electronics and lubricant oil industries. The production of hazardous waste is growing by an estimated 8 per cent a year but fortunately also the percentage of hazardous waste that goes to landfill (as opposed as re-used or recycled) is quickly dropping. This is because of the stricter regulations and controls that the Environment Agency and the EU have imposed to waste producers and also because of the general greater awareness of the implications of poor hazardous waste disposal procedures.
The first step to a safe, effective hazardous waste management is learning more about the risks that hazardous waste poses. Here are some eye-opening facts about the importance of safely disposing of any toxic waste.
- We don’t really know the extent of long-lasting effects of hazardous waste exposure on the human body
People respond to chemical exposure in different ways. Some people may be exposed to a chemical and not get sick. Other people may be more sensitive and have more severe reactions than others. Certain variables play a role in a person's susceptibility to chemical exposure and adverse health effects such as age, gender, genetics, pregnancy or other health conditions. For foetuses, children, and adolescents, the adverse health effects from exposure to chemicals can be much greater than for adults. The factors that affect their susceptibility include their stage of development and level of activity in their own environment. The human body has the ability to tolerate certain amounts of chemicals and the ability to excrete them. Once a person is exposed to a chemical, it may enter the blood stream, and eventually reach the internal organs. The body will try to filter the toxic elements in order to eliminate them, but it may not be possible to remove all of them. The amount, type, and length of time you are exposed to harmful substances will determine if you are at risk for long-lasting adverse health effects.
- Dangers are not limited to illnesses
For instance, a large variety of chemicals can explode. An explosive, is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure. Explosive materials may be categorized by the speed at which they expand. Materials that detonate (the front of the chemical reaction moves faster through the material than the speed of sound) are said to be "high explosives" and materials that deflagrate are said to be "low explosives". There are also some other materials which are merely combustible or flammable if ignited, without exploding. The distinction is not always crystal clear. Certain materials—dusts, powders, gasses, or volatile organic liquids—may be simply combustible or flammable under ordinary conditions, but become explosive in specific situations or forms, such as dispersed airborne clouds, or confinement or sudden release.
- Commodities can be killers
We all get in contact with a variety of materials in our everyday life, that are in reality hazardous and need a correct disposal. Here are some examples:
- Carbon Dioxide - This non-flammable gas is commonly used to freeze or chill food products during transport to market. Its vapours may cause dizziness or asphyxiation and making contact with the gas or liquefied gas can cause burns, severe injury and/or frostbite.
- Sulfuric Acid - It is commonly used in cleaning agents, fertilizer manufacturing, oil refining and wastewater processing. Sulfuric acid is highly corrosive and, if it comes in contact with human skin, it can cause severe burns while inhaling the fumes can cause serious lung damage.
- Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) - It's commonly used as fuel to heat appliances and vehicles as well as in refrigerants. It must be stored in pressured vessels to mitigate the fire risks associated with the mixture of hydrocarbon gasses. In a fire, LPG has the potential to cause major explosions.
- Argon (refrigerated liquid) - This refrigerated liquid is commonly used in the production of fluorescent light bulbs. It can cause serious tissue damage if it comes in contact with skin and it can be extremely harmful if inhaled. It must be transported in gas cylinders in an upright position to avoid sudden releases of pressure.
- Propane - It is used as a fuel for engines, oxy-gas torches, barbecues, portable stoves and residential central heating. Propane is also mixed with butane to make the vehicle fuel commonly known as liquified petroleum gas.
- Chlorine - This volatile substance is highly reactive, especially in the presence of heat. Since chlorine can severely damage lungs and can potentially kill people if leaked, its transportation is best avoided. Chlorine is widely used in swimming pools, water purification and bleach products.
- Hazardous waste can be landfilled
In the UK, all waste must be treated before it can be landfilled. This requirement comes from the Landfill Directive (LfD), which aims to reduce our reliance on landfill as a waste management option and minimise the environmental impact of landfill sites. Currently in the UK, there are about 280 landfill sites, but landfills for hazardous waste can only accept hazardous waste. Prior to any load of hazardous waste being accepted at a landfill site, a specialised team will assess the waste and approve its suitability for disposal. Every site needs to train their employees on the classification, handling, management and disposal of most types of hazardous waste. They also need to keep up-to-date with the latest UK and European legislation and most landfill sites provide advice on legal requirements for disposal of all hazardous waste types. Still, in order to reduce the amount of hazardous waste that go to landfill, it is important that waste producers find better ways to manage their waste, continually reviewing how best to manage toxic waste, including whether it needs to be produced at all and whether it can be reused or recycled.
At All Waste Matters, we provide nationwide hazardous waste recycling services to the educational, printing, electronic and healthcare sectors, offering customised collection, treatment, disposal and recycling services throughout the UK. Our extensive Environment Agency issued permit allows us to collect over 99% of all commercial wastes. With over 50 years of experience in the waste management industry, we can not only solve your hazardous waste disposal problems, but also help you reduce the amount of waste produced.